As the stunning news of House Speaker John Boehner’s resignation sinks in, talk has already been buzzing around Washington about what it means for the long list of critical issues Congress must deal with in the coming weeks.
The “tangle of fiscal deadlines” as the Washington Post describes it, includes the beginning of the new fiscal year this week, which is sure to be marked by intense differences of opinion over spending caps from the 2011 budget “sequestration.” Additionally, rancorous partisan debate over funding Planned Parenthood has helped fuel fears of another government shutdown this autumn.
While the prevailing view is that during Boehner’s last weeks in office the government will get funded for a few more months, this is only a short-term fix. Kicking the can down the road does nothing to address the deeper problem of a government in Washington that is paralyzed by partisan gridlock.
As Congress continues along its increasingly dysfunctional path, there is one key voice missing from deliberation on the Hill that could alter its course – the voice of the American people. As Representative Kevin McCarthy, one possible successor to Boehner, noted in an email to his colleagues, “I want us to be much closer to the people we represent, and I want them to once again feel like this is their government, they are in charge, and we are here to serve them.”
Getting closer to the people is exactly what Congress needs. Studies have shown the U.S. public at large is not as polarized as Congress, and when given the facts about policy issues, the people have shown a much greater flexibility, finding common ground on solutions for the greater good. Given the stakes, a little common sense guidance from “We the People” would come in handy right about now.
The Citizen Cabinet, now up and running in three states and soon to expand to more, was created for this purpose. On a regular basis, members of the Citizen Cabinet (a scientifically-selected, representative panel of registered voters in each state) go through an online consultation exercise – called a ‘policymaking simulation’ – that simulates the process elected officials go through on a pressing issue facing the federal government.
On each issue, Citizen Cabinet members get unbiased background information reviewed and vetted by experts and congressional staff from both sides of the aisle. They hear competing policy options that are actually on the table and evaluate the strongest pro and con arguments. Then they choose which policy options they would like their members of Congress to pursue. VOP then shares the results directly with their representatives, the media and the public.
Citizen Cabinets have already weighed in on the expected shortfall in Social Security and the nuclear deal with Iran, and members of Congress are showing a willingness to listen. Next, the Citizen Cabinet will focus on the federal discretionary budget.
Bringing to the table the voice of an informed public, one that is not as polarized as the forces that drive our current political climate, gives members the reassurance they need to make tough choices – allowing them to stand up to pressure from special interests and do what they believe is right.
With the stakes this high, having the informed voice of the People heard has never been more crucial.